I’ve just returned from a long weekend of back country skiing with my daughter. Last Fall, she booked a trip to Altoona Ridge Lodge. It was meant to be a couples trip. She is no longer part of a couple. Always up for exploring new places in any season, I begged to go instead. I told her she could dump me at the last minute for a better offer. She invited me anyhow. I have to admit, having a real building rather than a yurt, separate sleeping quarters with beds, and a real kitchen were part of the allure. I’m getting a bit older. I like to be outside, but I also like to sleep, and eat. Skis, boots, poles. Shovel, beacon, probe. Packed in less than an hour, and I was on my way.
As we were trudging up the trail towards the hut, I spoke with one of Emerald’s friends. She didn’t know that I had introduced Jim to the type of skiing that included metal edges and something besides a kick turn. I also told him that if he wanted to see me in the summer time, he might want to buy a mountain bike. We applied to be raft guides for Echo, he with no experience, and me with multiple whitewater canoe trips under my belt. Emerald’s friend stated, “Boys are so frustrating. Teach them something, and within a year or less, they have surpassed you in skill, stamina, and focus.” We were not able to finish the conversation. I could not keep up with her and talk at the same time. I wanted to tell her that the same thing happens with children, but it is not frustrating, it is liberating.
Due to a snowmobile hauling our gear the whole way and our bodies up the last mile into the lodge, we were settled and fed by early afternoon. New terrain and an expansive view called us outside for a run before dinner. Already tired from the trudge, I agreed to go, knowing I could turn back at anytime and settle in with a book in front of a warm fire. Accessing the ridge line, I realized this was not the case. Ascending through thick trees meant finding another way down, and I was now beholden to the group to find that route. A group of 20 somethings that had long ago surpassed my skill, my stamina, and my bravado. I sucked down some water, I ate another clif bar. I stayed silent. I kept up with the group until the trees opened up enough to see a way down. The kids dug a pit. They determined that the snow was funky but safe. We skied one at a time. I pushed off, immediately hit a rock, released a ski, and slid on scree to just above a tree. It scared me. It shook my confidence. I knew that I had used everything I had to get to that point, and that there was nothing left if I needed another adrenal response. Done for the day, I headed in while the others set off for another run. Funky snow was the norm. They decided to stay within the basin for the remainder of the trip rather than venture out onto more questionable terrain.
When Jim and I started skiing, it was all about just getting outside and exploring new places. The silence of a track through the woods. Snow falling off trees into our faces. An ear to ear grin on the dog as she chewed snowballs out of her toe balls. Then Jim took up back country skiing, and he continued to pursue it with passion. I took some time off. I had babies to birth and to nurse. While Jim took off on steeper and deeper trips, I made meals and took children sledding Given enough food and exposure, they grew into kids we could take skiing. Harnesses and edgie wedgies at ski areas. Little loops on skinny skis around golf courses. A forced march into the Wallowas where the snow was so bad we spent the entire weekend building anatomically correct snow people and reading books. Though Jim had far surpassed me in skill and stamina, he dialed it back when the kids and I were along. He had brought me to the female crying point more than once, and was learning what my limitations were. He knew that if I could not see it, I would not ski it, ruling out any kind of cliff jumping or cornice crunching. Jim often stated that the only thing he loved more than being in the wild places, was sharing those places with people he loved. He had discovered how to do that with me, and I trusted him with my and our children’s lives. The kids learned to ski. Emerald went from complaining to a basin echoing powder giggle that I can hear from a mile away. Her dad became her best and most reliable outdoor adventure buddy. She has pursued it with passion. Her skill, strength, and stamina far surpasses mine.
Shaken by my first run, and being bone tired from other things currently going on in my life, I was more assertive regarding my needs and desires for the rest of the trip. I sent the young folks out early, and settled in with that book and a fire. I caught up with them later in the day by following my ears to my daughter’s delighted shrieks. I ate well, and I slept, and when whiskey and beers came out I laughed until my stomach muscles were hurting more than my bruised hip. I took the easy way back to the lodge at the end of the day, knowing that the silence of a track through the woods, the snow falling on my face, would feed my soul in a way that no amount of adrenaline pumping turns could. I did not want to hold the group back by being the lowest common denominator, so I figured out ways to join them where I could, and take care of myself when I couldn’t. On the final morning, I asked Emerald why she invited me rather than someone closer to her age. (and ability level) She initially accused me of “fishing”, but I explained that I really was just curious. She replied, “Well, I enjoy your company. I also knew you wouldn’t bail on the trip at the last minute. And, I figured since YOU drug ME along for MY first 15 years of skiing….”
Interestingly enough, I only hit the female crying point once on this trip. The last day, I was ahead of the group as we ascended the same ridge we had climbed the first day. I stopped before topping out to stay in the shelter of some trees while I waited for everyone to catch up. Looking back, I saw them climbing, I heard them talking and laughing. Friends, on what may be a final trip, before they all head their separate ways after graduation. The sun was creating diamonds in the snow as a backdrop to all of their colorful hats and jackets. A group of 20 somethings playing hard in wild places, far from any screen, devoid of electronic communication. A trip into the back country, organized by my daughter. She inherited Jim’s strength. She inherited his stamina. She knows how to play safe. She has developed her own skill, and pursues it with passion. And Emerald shares those places with people she loves. It made me cry.